Newton Aldermen OK Norwood Avenue Home that Exceeds Floor-Area Ratio Limits

The board held a lengthy debate last month on the special permit for the home, but ultimately approved it at last night's meeting.

After delaying their decision last month, the Newton Board of Aldermen last night approved a special permit for a new Norwood Avenue home that would exceed the site's floor-area ratio (FAR) limits.

The permit decision had been delayed from the board's June 18 meeting . 

"I am absolutely convinced the permit should be denied," said Ward 3 Alderman-at-Large Ted Hess-Mahan, who also chairs the board's Land Use Committee. 

"The structure, at almost 6,000 square feet, would be larger than any other single family house on a similar size lot...and two to three times larger than the house it would replace," Hess-Mahan added.

Despite Hess-Mahan's arguments, though, the board approved the permit 17-7. 

The FAR regulations, which control the ratio between a home’s floor space to its lot size, . The restrictions aim to prevent construction of oversized homes (often called "McMansions").

FAR is calculated by dividing a home’s allowable floor space by the area of its lot. For example, a 1,800-square-foot home on a 4,000-square-foot lot would have a FAR of 0.45. In the new rules, structures like garages, certain enclosed porches and some accessory buildings (depending on size) would be included in the floor space of the home.

When a new structure or addition is proposed and it exceeds the lot's FAR, the builder must apply for a special permit. 

For more info on FAR and its history, .

The FAR for the proposed home at 35 Norwood Ave. was initially at 0.45 but was amended to 0.42 (0.39 is the FAR allowed for the lot). The Land Use Committee approved the 0.42 FAR with a 4-1 vote on June 5. Alderman Hess-Mahan was the only dissenting vote. 

Hess-Mahan noted at last month's meeting that the Planning Department also recommended denying the special permit. 

To review the revised plans for the home at 35 Norwood Ave., click the .pdf in the media section above.

Ward 2 Alderman-at-Large Marcia Johnson agreed with Hess-Mahan in that the home does not fit with the rest of the neighborhood, noting that she walked around the area to observe the other homes and believed the proposed house is "too big for what is there today."

Johnson also encouraged aldermen to abide by the FAR regulations the board and Planning Department put in place last year.

"At some point, we have to stick by what we decided, learn from it and follow the rules we put in place," Johnson said.

Nevertheless, the majority of the board agreed that the architect and homeowner worked to adjust the plans to mask much of the home's size, which is just 300 feet over the FAR limit.

"When you looked at all the factors combined, [the Norwood Avenue home] will become a model for other developers to look at as a way to moderate the impact of mass," said Ward 8 Alderman-at-Large Mitchell Fischman.

"This applicant has met his burden," said Ward 4 Alderman Jay Harney. "He's done everything he can possibly do to make this project a good project." 

The final vote on the permit was 17-7; the seven aldermen who voted against the permit included Hess-Mahan, Johnson, Lisle Baker, Richard Blazar, Lenny Gentile, David Kalis and Brian Yates. 


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